Sunday, July 20, 2008

OP Parking Discussion

While note directly related to Ward 3, there has been some interesting discussion on the Tenleytown Listserv regarding the Office of Planning parking regulations proposal under the new Comprehensive Plan.

A contributor opened the discussion with the following:

The Office of Planning has proposed major changes in the parking regulations for new construction, eliminating many of the current minimum parking requirements. Minimum parking requirements have been used to reduce the impact of parking "spillover" on our neighborhoods. Even with our current regulations, many DC neighborhoods already bear significant costs related to spillover parking from nearby commercial and higher density residential zones. Spillover parking reduces the availability of parking for residents and brings an increase in traffic to residential streets.

OP proposes to eliminate all minimum parking requirements for residential uses. In fact, minimum parking requirements would apply only for retail, office, service, or restaurant uses in C-2 zones that are not designated "transit oriented development zones" and for nonresidential uses in low- or moderate-density residential zones. In addition, the draft regulations include an unspecified limit on the amount of off-street parking that developers can provide. These are radical changes that would set into motion a sweeping citywide experiment that could potentially have irreversible, adverse impacts on many neighborhoods across the District. The quality of life in our neighborhoods is diminished by the increased traffic and reduced on-street parking. OP's proposal can exacerbate the spillover parking problems in these neighborhoods and introduce new spillover parking problems in other neighborhoods.

There has been interesting discussion, but this response framed the conversation from a different perspective:

How does being adjacent to a piece of property somehow convey ownership? A homeowner only owns the land to the sidewalk. The sidewalk, grass strip, and street are city property.

This notion that homeowners/residents have come to view city property as there own and populate it with as many possessions as they desire seems to be a central issue here. And given that the number of cars per household correlates well with the drain such household has on the roadway system, that becomes a fairly insidious misconception.

In terms of the over-all discussion, instead of framing the situation in the pejorative terms of "spillover", "inadequate", "at the expense of stability", "reduction in their quality of life", the situation should really be described as what it is:

-The disproportionate use of land, both public and private, by some residents for their home, their possessions, and their transportation.

-These high-density residential developments aren't needed because of some fashionable desire people have to live more tightly packed together but because they are a wiser use of land than the suburban-style low density communities. It makes no sense then, to further support these low-density communities by continuing to give away public street space on the already under-serving streets.

-That street space should be used to full capacity by allocating it fairly to community residents irrespective of who happens to be closest to it (obviously this is a factor in it's usefulness, though).

These limitations on parking availability will naturally ensure a limit on automobile use, which is the ultimate goal, and one best achieved (as indicated by the previous toll discussion) by limiting source and destination parking. After all if there's one thing that's evident in this day and age it's that overbuilding roadways and parking creates a constituency that obstructs ever shrinking those structures back to more reasonable levels. The idea that failing to build a parking garage is only a missed opportunity completely ignores that fact.

Planning and the Comprehensive Plan are about the future. Maintaining discourse in a framework from a previous era which was predicated on $.20 gas and a seemingly unending source of fossil fuels seems to be short-sighted. This is an important time for staking out the future of the District. All residents should be encouraged to provide their input to the appropriate offices.

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